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What Is Air Spading

What is Air Spading and Why is it Great for Your Trees?

Air spading isn’t something that most property owners have heard of, but air spading can be an essential tool for the health of your trees. We all know the important role that proper care plays in the health and strength of our trees. Air spading is a technique designed to make it is easy for a tree care specialist or arborist to inspect the health of your tree’s roots without risking damaging the tree.

Air spading spray

What is Air Spading?

An air spade or air tool is a hand-held device attached to a compressor using high pressured air to remove soil and mulch to expose roots and the root collar.  This is a fast noninvasive way for arborists to excavate.  It allows a more surgical approach than traditional excavation methods that indiscriminately cut all the roots.  By exposing the roots and the trunk of plants we are able remove girdling roots or prune roots causing the least harm to the plant. 

Air Spades remove soil with compressed air and are specially designed to carefully remove soil from around a tree’s roots or its base without causing damage. 

With high-pressure air blown through a hose, the soil is moved away from the trunk and/or roots. When this happens, the roots, root flare, and trunk are exposed, making it easy for arborists to inspect them. When the root flare is exposed, arborists are able to gather essential information about the structure and health of the tree. 

Gaining access to root systems through air spading is a great way to check the roots for rot residing beneath the tree’s surface, as well as to break up soil that is compacted, preventing the roots from getting water and nutrients. Air spading also provides arborists with access to the roots, allowing them to diagnose and treat potential issues. 

Without air spading accessing roots can be extremely difficult and risky. An arborist will need to the roots themselves in order to expose them. This is time and labor-intensive. Additionally, digging around the roots can cause damage to the tree base or roots.


Mulch Volcano


Too often landscape contractors will use excessive mulch on the root system and trunks of trees.  This is usually a chronic condition where “a fresh coat” of mulch is used every spring.  This is often referred to as “mulch volcanoes”.  Since roots need oxygen to function trees will send out new roots from their trunks or from the existing root system.  In the short term this drains a lot of energy from the tree.  In the long run these new roots will girdle the tree limiting its ability to function properly.   If we find this before the damage is too extensive, we can excavate the excess much and soil and prune the unwanted roots.


Occasionally we find mature trees that do not look vigorous.  Even trees that have been well maintained will start to slow down as they get older.  This is natural but we do not want the tree to become so weak that it may die.  Using an air spade to excavate the tree’s root system can reduce compaction and create an opportunity to back fill with charcoal and or compost.  This excavation is often done in a hub and spoke pattern starting at the trunk and going out to the edge of the canopy. 

Taking a soil sample ahead of time is critical to find the soil analysis and pH to determine what should be used to amend the soil.  In general, the least invasive time to do this either in late winter or after leaf drop in the fall. These two times of year are when the tree is dormant and the soil moisture is usually high. This is a great way to revive old trees that may have been suffering due to soil compaction, poor soil nutrients or a pH that is no longer appropriate for the species.

Construction Preservation

Trees that are to be impacted by construction can have their root system excavated before they are to be trenched.  This allows the arborist to show people how much of the root system will be lost.  The closer to the trunk the construction injury takes place the greater the root loss. With the root system exposed it allows for arborist to cut the roots properly so they have the best chance to recover.  Roots that are indiscriminately cut or ripped may allow for pathogens and decay fungi to enter the tree.  Further the roots that are not pruned properly will die back drawing a lot of energy from the tree.

Air Spading Before


Air Spades are used for root excavation. The device is strong and powerful, with the ability to handle clay and large clumps of soil. Plus because it utilizes compressed air, air spades safely handle sensitive root systems.

When an arborist uses an air spade, they are typically removing soil from the base of a tree in order to expose the root system underneath. With the roots exposed the arborist is able to:

  • Prepare for root inspections.
  • Remove excess soil. 
  • Diagnose tree or root issues. 
  • Prepare for a variety of treatments. 
  • Excavate deeply planted trees. 
  • Facilitate trenches, typically for gas, electricity, water, or internet.

How Does Air Spading Work?

The roots of a tree are underground, making it difficult to inspect the roots without disturbing the soil. This can be done with a hand spade, however, it is a difficult and laborious process, often leading to less than favorable results, including damage to the roots. 

With an Air Spade, the process is much safer, more efficient, and more effective. Using the high-pressure air, the Air Spade is able to break soil apart with no harm done to the tissue of the root. The process is also much faster, which saves a great deal of time. 

How Does Air Spading Help with Soil Compaction?

Soil compaction occurs when the tree’s root zone is in compacted soil, preventing nutrients and water from moving seamlessly through the root system. When the trees get stressed due to the lack of nutrients and water, they become vulnerable to diseases and insects. 

Soil becomes compacted for a number of reasons, such as people walking over the roots or disturbance from construction. As the stress occurs, the pore spaces in the soil structure become compacted. 

By using an Air Spade with an air compressor, compacted areas of soil can be loosened from the high-pressure air. This process clears the roots without damaging the tree allowing for greater nutrient penetration


To keep your trees healthy and safe, you will need to have their roots checked. Air Spading utilizes a gentle yet powerful process that protects the tree while getting to the bottom of things. Make sure your trees are healthy without putting them at risk.

If you have questions about tree service or plant health care or would like an estimate, give us a call at 978-768-6999 or click here to contact us.

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